By Mike Willis
The conversation Jesus had with the woman at the well has been used as a model for evangelism, and well it should be. Some has apparently overlooked some of the important lessons from the conversation or glossed over them to highlight those items more in keeping with their agenda for evangelism. Let us study the work Jesus did in converting the Samaritan woman.
The Gospel Crosses Racial and Cultural Boundaries
After his early ministry in Judea, Jesus returned to Galilee passing through Samaria. Arriving in Sychar, he stopped at Jacob’s well at the sixth hour (noon if Jewish time; 6:00 p.m. if Roman time) and tarried there while his disciples entered the village for food. In the meantime, a woman from the city came out to draw water. Jesus asked the Samaritan woman for a drink. She responded, “How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria?” (4:9) The Jews had no association with Samaritans, consequently the woman was surprised that Jesus asked her for a drink.
Jesus responded, “If thou knewest the gift of God and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water” (4:10). The Lord was speaking of the water of life, the gospel which brings salvation to lost men. The woman was more interested in literal water so that she would not have to come to the well for water. Jesus told her of the living water: “. . . whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (4:14). The living water has the ability to satisfy every man’s need, to bring everlasting life to him.
From Jesus’ work with the Samaritan woman, we learn that the gospel is not limited to any one class of people, such as the Jews, the rich, the poor, the educated, or the uneducated. It is a universal gospel available to all men. We would do well to learn from our Lord not to confine our work of gospel preaching to white, middle class America. The gospel transcends every barrier erected by men.
Confrontation With Her Sin: Adultery
The woman desired the water of life and asked, “Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw.” The woman could not receive the water until she repented of her sins. Jesus brought her face to face with her immorality. Because “he knew what was in man” (2:25), he could expose her immorality. Jesus said, “Go, call thy husband, and come hither.”
The woman responded, “I have no husband.” Jesus replied, “Thou hast well said, I have no husband: for thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly” (4:18). By this comment, Jesus exposed and condemned her violations of God’s marriage law and her adultery – her living with a man in an unmarried state.
There are some who advise that we should not made direct confrontation with a person’s sins in evangelism. We should teach the gospel and wait till later to show them their sins. To confront one with his sins, some say, assaults his selfesteem and is likely to drive him away from Christ. Jesus did not believe that was so, nor did John the Baptist (cf. Matt. 3:1-17). We cannot improve on the method of the Lord – to make direct confrontation of a man’s sins in an effort to bring him to repentance.
Because of the woman’s immoral life, some of us may have been tempted to pass her by as someone who would not be interested in the gospel. As a matter of fact, many of us would not have “wasted our time” on several of those converted in the New Testament, such as: Saul of Tarsus (he was too wrapped up in his own religion), the Philippian jailor (he had just given Paul a beating), Lydia (too committed to Judaism), Simon the sorcerer (he was only interested in deceiving people and being rich), etc. We should not presume to decide that any person is not willing to obey the gospel. Our job is to teach it, giving those hearing the gospel the opportunity to accept or reject it.
Confrontation With Her Sin: False Religion
The woman changed the subject from her immorality to talk about the religious differences between the Jews and the Gentiles. She said, “Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship” (4:20). The bitter conflict between the Jews and Samaritans was well known. Having been excluded from participation in the rebuilding of the Temple during the Restoration of Israel (see Ezra and Nehemiah), the Samaritans instituted a rival worship on Mount Gerizim.
Jesus did not ignore the fact that this woman’s worship was wrong. He said, “Ye worship ye know not what” (4:22). Jesus declared that Samaritan worship was ignorant worship. He furthermore added, “salvation is of the Jews” (4:22). The only means whereby man could be saved was through the Messiah who descended from the Jews. Hence, Jesus repudiated Samaritan worship and directed the woman to “true worship.”
Some again would have us to avoid what they call “denomination bashing.” When visitors attend our worship services they studiously avoid preaching a lesson which might lead them to believe that “they worship they know not what” or to imply that salvation is given only to those who are citizens of the kingdom of heaven, the church of Christ. Jesus had not taken one of these personal work classes taught by some brethren which teaches us to avoid “denomination bashing.”
Gospel preaching has the power to convert the heart of the good and honest. This woman became convinced that Jesus was the Messiah and ran into the city to tell others whom she had found. Have some of us lost confidence in the gospel to produce this effect in men? Are we afraid that plain gospel preaching will drive away those who might have spiritual interests?
Jesus affirmed that the gospel cannot drive away the honest man who is sincerely seeking salvation. He said, “He that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God” (3:21). Those who are driven away by the plain preaching of the gospel are those who “love darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (3:20).
Each of us needs to be careful to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15), with “meekness and fear” (1 Pet. 3:15). Being careful to emphasize that we speak the truth because of a genuine concern for the sinner’s lost soul, we should not fear that speaking the truth will drive away sincere sinners! It does not have that power. It draws to God the good, honest, and sincere who are seeking salvation.
Let us emulate Jesus in taking the gospel to the lost, regardless of in what part of the world they be. Let us show men the “living waters” and call upon them to forsake their sinful ways, whether they be the sinful ways of immorality or false religion.
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 12, pp. 354, 374-375
June 21, 1990